More than 100 people turned out for the first public workshop to write a new master plan for McClellan Palomar Airport on February 5, as the county works to draft an updated plan. The current plan, written in 1997, is set to expire in 2015.
Residents, concerned about noise, pollution, and safety, joined airport managers and employees and a host of county employees and consultants at the four information stations designed to inspire comments.
"If we don't hear about your concerns, we can't address them," said Vince Hourigan, project manager for consultants Kimley-Horn and Associates. "If we get a whole lot of input in one direction, we're going to take a particularly good look at that."
Carlsbad resident Hope Nelson said she attended the workshop because she is worried about the noise, safety issues, and environmental concerns.
"It's important that the public stays involved," Nelson said. "We have to keep the airport accountable."
Residents say that the 55-year-old airport is already hosting aircraft it's not rated for, including Gulfstream G-IV and G-V. Craig Foster, the vice president of the Southern California Aviation Association, confirmed that the jets are landing there, noting that honoring the airport rating is up to the "operator of the aircraft."
"Some of the older private jets are generating a lot of noise," he said. "There are hush-kits for the G-II and G-III, and they will be banned in the next two years."
Foster also noted that the noisier aircraft tend to be older and that the older aircraft are being retired, so noise issues should settle down as technology improves. Hourigan said the airport has a B-2 rating, but the county's goal is to meet C-3 standards.
A survey of North County residents found just 1.6 percent use the airport, with 76 percent heading to San Diego International Airport and the rest reporting that they head to Los Angeles when they fly.
Some 285 aircraft are based there, including 170 private jets and planes. SkyWest, which operates the United Airlines shuttles and West Coast Charters, are commercial tenants. (On February 7, jets from ResMed and Qualcomm were flying in and out of the airport.)
The consultants reported there were about 50,000 to 60,000 enplanements — people getting on aircraft — in the past few years. But for planning purposes, they must select scenarios that range from an increase to 114,000 enplanements in 2035, as predicted by the FAA, to up to 707,000 enplanements, should commercial airlines pursue greater market share at the airport.
The airport's busiest year was 1989, and air traffic was highest around the turn of the century, according to county statistics.
"If Carlsbad Palomar Airport could do what it wanted, we'd see that huge increase," said Ray Bender, a local resident and avid follower of the airport's safety and planning protocols.
Changes coming include adding 900 feet to the 4897-foot runway, by bringing the east end closer to El Camino Real, something that worries Bender.
"My biggest concern is building the runway near a landfill," he said. "I don't think operating near the landfill is safe. The other major issue is what mitigation should be imposed. Right now, Palomar Airport Road has just a long, ugly strip of dirt next to it and that needs to be addressed."
The county will hold three more workshops to develop ideas for the master plan later this year, Hourigan said. Once finished, the plan will go to the board of supervisors for approval.